In a fascinating interview ahead of Gerard Houllier's return to Anfield on Monday, Jamie Carragher explains why he regards the Frenchman, in his first three years at Anfield at least, as the best manager he's ever worked with...
It's 9.30am on a frosty morning in Merseyside, where the memory of a late defeat to Tottenham Hotspur two days previous is about to be blotted further by news that Jamie Carragher will be sidelined for three months.
A dislocated shoulder suffered during a seemingly innocuous challenge on former teammate Peter Crouch will keep the 32-year-old in the treatment room until late February at least. Carragher could be excused for not being in the best of moods.
It says much about the man that he still arrives on cue for a pre-arranged sit down with Liverpoolfc.tv. Most footballers - forgivably - would have postponed. It's also an illustration of the high regard he has for old boss Gerard Houllier, who is the subject of today's interview.
In football, as in all walks of public life, perspective arrives only with patience. For many years after the press conference announcing his departure from the club, analysis of the Houllier era was bottom-heavy. The final two years, the inability to translate cup success into league glory, the litany of misjudged signings such as El Hadji Diouf and Bruno Cheyrou - it was all too fresh in the mind. The 2001 treble, it often seemed, was a prefix to failure.
"He came back too soon," says Carragher, referring to Houllier's dramatic return to the dugout for our Champions League encounter with Roma in March 2002 - just weeks after undergoing heart surgery.
"I think he'd say himself now that he'd probably have been better waiting until the end of the season. That was just his enthusiasm for football. Obviously it didn't help him that summer when he made certain decisions but for the first three or four years he was the best manager I've had.
"He wasn't so much a coach, he was a manager. He was fantastic in a team meeting in getting you pumped up for a game, getting everyone together and team spirit."
So, six eventful years on, how would Carragher define the Houllier era?
"He put us back on the map in Europe with that UEFA Cup run in 2001," says the now veteran defender. "He was also the first manager to get us into the Champions League.
"The treble in 2001 is definitely under-appreciated. That season was unbelievable. To win a trophy in a season is a great thing. To win three?
"It's not just the finals. You've got the quarter-finals and the semi-finals - they're all massive games. Everything is on a knife-edge. Lose one game and it all falls apart.
"There were signings that didn't work but look at Sami Hyypia - what a signing he was. Markus Babbel, Didi Hamann, Stephane Henchoz, Gary Mac - these signings. Look at what Heskey did in the treble season. Look at the way he made me and Danny Murphy better players and brought Steven Gerrard through."
Carragher will himself be best remembered for his performance during one night in Istanbul, for overcoming sustained bouts for cramp to ensure the greatest comeback of them all didn't morph into a story of what might have been.
But while he regards lifting the Champions League trophy as his finest hour, Carragher argues that the treble was and is an even more remarkable feat.
"It's actually a better achievement than Istanbul," said our No.23. "Istanbul as a one off will never be beaten by anyone but someone wins the Champions League every year. To win three cup competitions in one season - that's not something that happens very often, not just at Liverpool but anywhere."
Houllier famously declared in the aftermath of Istanbul that it was largely his team that had triumphed. After all, he argued, 12 of the 14 players who wore red in the Ataturk were either signed or, in the case of Steven Gerrard and Carragher himself, nurtured on his watch.
For some, this undermines the tactical brilliance Rafael Benitez displayed to guide the Reds past Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Chelsea and, after a dreadful first half, AC Milan. Not forgetting the immense contribution of Benitez signings Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso.
It also ignores the fact that most observers - including Carragher - felt it was right for Houllier to leave the club a year earlier.
"Don't get me wrong - the players and Rafa, it was our team," reflects Carragher. "But a lot of the players Gerard brought through played a major part in Istanbul. He's got to take some of the credit for that.
"Whenever a manager leaves it's because things haven't gone too well towards the end - it was the same with Rafa Benitez lately. But what Gerard left was winners in the team. He didn't inherit a team of winners.
"Even though the team wasn't doing too well, there were players in the squad who knew how to win trophies. Myself, Sami, Stevie, Michael, Didi, John Arne Riise. All these players had played in major finals. That made Rafa Benitez's job a bit easier coming in - he had players who knew how to win."
Carragher played his 650th game for Liverpool against West Ham last month and is now placed fifth - just behind Ian Rush - in the club's all-time appearance list.
This, perhaps, is another aspect of Houllier's legacy that is undervalued.
It was the Frenchman who warned Carragher to reel in any excesses early in his career; Houllier who brought the training facilities and methods at Melwood into the 21st century; Houllier who nagged him to get a girlfriend and settle down.
"The club and the team he came to was maybe set in its ways from the old days; going out drinking and enjoying your wins," says Carragher. "He certainly put a stop to that and he was certainly proved right by the success he had in his first few seasons.
"When we won the treble in 2001 - that's when the penny finally dropped.
"After the FA Cup final, no one was allowed a drink even though we'd won - and we went on to win the UEFA Cup final. These things make a difference.
"The fact I'm still playing now, and you look at Danny Murphy, Stevie, Michael Owen, Heskey - all those players from back then are still playing around the 30 mark or over. A lot of that is down to the manager.
"It probably wouldn't have been possible (to play 650 games) without the advice he gave me off the pitch. He's someone who came in just after Arsene Wenger and revolutionised English football in terms of how we look after ourselves.
"He was (on at me to get a girlfriend). I think all managers want players to settle down. It keeps them in. It wasn't just me - he was like that with other young players in the team.
"He was the biggest influence on my career because of what I won with him, how he influenced me as a player and what he gave me off the pitch."
Even today, more than six years after his Anfield reign ended, Houllier takes a keen interest in Carragher's wellbeing.
"He sent me a message about my shoulder and I spoke to him on the phone about how to come back and different things," explains Carragher. "He's given me a lot of support there, which is appreciated."
Having admitted that he could have been forced to hang up his boots by now without Houllier's mentoring, there is a certain irony in the fact that a rare injury will prevent Carragher facing the Frenchman's new club on Monday.
The centre-back knows there will be no room for sentiment as Liverpool look to bounce back from the Spurs defeat, but he is hoping the Kop gives Houllier the welcome his trophy haul and dedication to the club deserves.
"I'm expecting a great reception for what he did and also what he went through. He basically had a heart attack because he was putting so much work into trying to get Liverpool back to the top.
"He's the manager I won 70 or 80 per cent of my trophies with, he's someone I get on very well with and I'd like to see him do well. Though obviously not on Monday."